As the House nears a crucial vote this week on the controversial healthcare bill, it appears more and more likely that Democrats will bundle influential legislation on student aid reform with the healthcare amendments they are attempting to pass using reconciliation. If passed, the bill would fundamentally change federal student loan programs by ending the practice of federally subsidizing private companies that give loans to students, instead giving federal loans directly to students.
Regardless of your views on healthcare reform, every Georgetown student should be pushing to have this legislation included in the reconciliation bill. The reform of the federal student loan system is long overdue and dearly needed for students struggling to pay for college in today’s weak economy.
Although the exact language of the legislation has not yet been determined, it is expected to increase the value of individual Pell Grants, or at least prevent cuts to the program using the money saved by ending subsidies to private lenders. Pell Grants are given by the federal government to students who demonstrate outstanding financial need.
This year, Georgetown has started to address its lack of socio-economic diversity by increasing available scholarship money through the 1789 Initiative. Increased federal aid will only boost these efforts. More generous Pell Grants would provide money to students from the poorest backgrounds, students that often choose not attend or apply to Georgetown for financial reasons.
The legislation is expected to secure funds for middle class students as well, not just the poorest students. About 55 percent of Georgetown students receive some form of financial aid, according to Andy Pino, Georgetown’s director of media relations. Much of this assistance comes from the Perkins Loan Program, which is expected to be extended for another year under the proposed legislation. The Perkins Loan program gives funds to participating universities, which then loan the money out at a low interest rate. The interest paid on the loans goes into the pool of money that universities can loan out in later years. Georgetown has used the Perkins Loan Program for several years and would benefit from its continuation.
The good news for Georgetown students is that many groups on campus have worked to get the legislation passed.
Georgetown’s Office of Federal Relations is working in support of the legislation, which it should be. Assistant Vice President of Federal Relations Scott Fleming (SFS ’72) said that he and his office had been in direct contact with congressmen and aides on the Hill about the bill, and that Georgetown-affiliated associations have written letters in support of the legislation. Although the University itself has not written an official letter in support of the legislation, Fleming said that his office has been advocating for the legislation informally.
Georgetown’s College Democrats have also pushed for the reform, calling senators to voice their support for the measure.
College Democrats President Bryan Woll (COL ’12) noted that the issue of student aid reform was of special importance to the College Democrats and to Georgetown students.
“It’s something that really brings politics home for students,” Woll said. “This is an issue students can really relate to and see how legislation on Capitol Hill can have an impact on their lives.”
The College Republicans criticized the decision to insert the student aid bill into the reconciliation bill, saying healthcare and student aid should be considered separately. The reality, though, is that neither the student reform bill nor the healthcare bill can reasonably expect to garner the 60 votes needed to avoid a filibuster in the Senate, and reconciliation is the only hope for both bills, which explains why they have been tacked together.
Whichever political strategy is employed, every student should support the passage of this reconciliation bill, because all students will benefit from the diversity that comes when students from all backgrounds can afford to attend Georgetown.
Want to debate the process with Galen? E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org
Saxa Politica is a bi-weekly column on campus news and politics